“Books really saved my life. I had a really hard childhood and books really civilized me,” says Michael V. Smith, one of the UBCO professors who will host the 16th Annual Okanagan Short Story Contest.
He’s working on a memoir about his experience of “being a weirdo man in the world and the relationship he had with his father.” Describing him as a blue collar, small-town dad, the book will explore how the pair coped with the upwardly mobile, big city life Smith grew into.
His father passed away last year and the rest of the family has already been warned not to read the book when it’s published early next year. They’ll respect those wishes. Now a few decades into a writer’s life, they’ve all learned to heed these warnings.
Writing began very early for Smith who was already crafting poetry in Grade 7.
“I was exceptionally jealous when Chantal Theoret wrote a book and had it hand bound in Grade 6,” he said by way of explaining how he found his chosen vocation. Four years later, he was entering adult contests en route to the path where he would ultimately find success.
The competition element is a way of building community, Smith believes. With the valley spread out as it is, holding an event like the Okanagan Short Story Contest offers a way for writers to meet and to have their work read, regardless of who wins.
“I think it’s very important to interest people in the power of language and the transformative nature of stories,” he added.
After 15 years of collecting stories, Smith says there is talk of whether an Okanagan aesthetic has developing. UBCO creative and critical studies professor Nancy Holmes has been thinking about it, but Smith said he believes she hasn’t found one yet.
Whether it’s the spread of the valley or the spread of the country and how readily writers are able to access books from every region, it would seem the perspectives are as vast as the styles the contest brings in each year.
Yet, given the solitary nature of the art form, it would be difficult to even consider what the body of work coming from the valley looked like without gatherings like the contest.
Sponsored by UBC’s Faculty of creative and critical studies, the Kelowna Capital News and the Central Okanagan Foundation, the contest offers cash prizes of $500 for the winning entry, $200 for second prize and $100 for third prize. Judging will be done by writer Gerry Shikatani.
The top prize includes a one-week residency at the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre for the winning writer. Woodhaven’s rustic setting of whispering pines, trails and meandering wildlife offers an inspiring atmosphere for artists and writers to relax, work without distraction, and discuss their projects.
Entries for the Okanagan Short Story Contest must be original, unpublished works of 1,000 to 4,000 words, submitted on plain 8.5 by 11-inch white paper, double spaced and typed. Submissions must include a $15 entry fee of a money order or cheque payable the University of British Columbia. All residents of the Southern Interior of British Columbia—from east of Hope, west of the Alberta border, north of the U.S. border and south of Williams Lake—are eligible to enter.